Meet the Carry-On Traveller

When we started off as nomads over three years ago, the idea of travelling with a carry-on only seemed impossible. But fast-forward half a year, and we were already doing it!

Our packing style has developed over the years and we've learnt a lot, as detailed in our previous post: Packing tips from 3 years on the road. Some tips we've come up with ourselves, trying out different things and finding what works for us. Most we've learnt from other travellers, mainly by reading their blogs (of course!).

Erin (Mc Neaney) and her partner Simon  had already been travelling for a few years when we started out, and their blog the Never Ending Voyage was one of the invaluable sources of information – on packing and other aspects of nomad life. Therefore I was thrilled to find out that Erin has now combined all her packing knowledge into a book: the Carry-On Traveller: The Ultimate Guide for Packing Light. I so wish this book existed when we started out!

The Carry-On Traveller: The Ultimate Guide for Packing Light

Erin definitely knows what she's talking about, having travelled for over 6 years with only a carry-on and her extensive experience is apparent when reading the book. Still, she doesn't claim to know it all, but rather gives different suggestions and options, while sharing her own experience and learning. She goes into the details, explains things and spices it up with personal anecdotes and comments from other travellers.

"Packing light is the secret to stress-free travel, and travelling with just a carry-on size bag – one you can take on planes – is best of all."

Getting Started

Erin starts the book by sharing the benefits of carry-on travel, the basic principles you can apply on any trip, the airline restrictions you need to know before you fly and tips for choosing your carry-on luggage. (Sidenote: She uses the same backpack model as I do, the Osprey Farpoint 40, and we both love it!)

Erin explains why she's such an advocate of carry-on travel: "Travelling light was the best decision I made when I started travelling. Ive saved myself money, time, stress, and backache. Most importantly, I've gained freedom – I can pack all my belongings in ten minutes and head off on the next adventure." And we couldn't agree more!

Erin's basic principles of carry-on travel are very similar to what we have learnt from our experience. You definitely don't need as much as you think – even now, after years of trimming, we're carrying things we hardly ever use. We went paperless already years ago and I love being able to carry a whole library with me where ever we go. With the rate I read, it's just not possible to buy and carry physical books. And with sharing with your partner, we significantly reduce our load. All the double toothpaste, soap, shampoo, sunscreen, chargers, etc. we can leave out does add up. –Erin lists 8 more principles, but for those you need to read the book!

What to Pack

The second part of the book is all about what to pack. The best travel fabrics, the brands that make practical yet stylish travel clothes, and how to select a colour scheme so you can mix and match all your clothes. Erin also covers electronics, toiletry, medical kit, and miscellaneous items. She gives you pros and cons for different options and shares detailed packing list suggestions for all these categories, including both women's and men's clothes.

I picked a few of my favorite tips and ideas from this section:

Pack comfortable. – "There's no need to completely change your wardrobe; it's more important to pack what you feel comfortable in."

Layers are the key! – "By packing layers, rather tan one heavy jacket, you can adapt to changing weather conditions, and your luggage will be lighter. You can also wash you base layers more often – it's easier to wash a t-shirt than a sweater."

Challenge your assumptions and try a simpler beauty regime. – "I've found there are many toiletries I can manage without. Since I began travelling, I stopped wearing makeup and haven't missed it. My beauty routine is minimal – soap (or just water) and sometimes moisturiser on my face; shampoo and sometimes a conditioner on my hair. My life is simpler, my bag is lighter, and I feel just as good." I'm not as minimal as Erin when it comes to toiletries, but I completely agree with this: "You don't need to go as minimal as me – there's no reason not to travel with makeup and facial cleanser if you want to – but do think carefully about what you pack, challenge your assumptions about what's a necessity, and give a simpler beauty regime a try."

Divide prescription medicine. – "If you are travelling as a couple, divide your prescription medicines between both of your bags, in case one gets stolen."

Carry the technology you'll need and don't worry too much. –"Some people don't want to travel with technology because they are worried about theft. I think if it serves a purpose and makes life easier, it's worth the risk."

Pack duct tape. Period. – "Duct tape is a strong, sticky cloth tape that can be torn without scissors. It can fix almost anything: tents, backpacks, shoes, clothes, cables, books, mosquite net holes. Some travellers even use it as blister protection, bandage, sink plug, clothesline, and lint remover."

Preparing for departure

The third part of the book concentrates on how to pack, because "When you're travelling with a carry-on, how you pack is just as important as what you pack." In this part Erin also shares answers to some common concerns, and guides you on safety and insurance questions.

The most important tip in this part is, in my opionion, this: "The best way to stay organised and save space is to use packing organisers – many carry-on travellers swear by them." We are one of those travellers, and praise packing cubes and other organisers every chance we get. They have made living out of a backpack so much easier for us.

Good preparation is also something we believe in and agree with Erin: "Before you start packing, write a list of everything you plan to take. It will help you stay organised, prevent fears that you've forgotten something, and stop you from panic-packing at the last minute."

Interviews with Carry-On Travellers

The fourth part of the book consists of interviews with a range of carry-on travellers - including fashion and makeup lovers, families, solo travellers, young and old couples, campers, photographers and many more. I loved this part of the book, because it showed how many different approaches they are for carry-on travel. Although many of them were different from ours, in everyone of them there was something I could relate to and some tips I can use in future.


The book contains so much information, but if after reading you still crave for more, there are the bonus resources at the end of the book. A complete packing list, links to useful packing resources, packing lists from a variety of carry-on travellers (including us!), and the (current as time of writing) carry-on size and weight restriction for many airlines. Something to entertain and educate you for several more hours!

Interview with Erin

We too have a bonus material for you! Erin was nice enough to answer some questions for us, and there might even be some bits not covered in the book. For example, would you like to know what she'd pack if there where no destrictions? 

What's the number one item you couldn't live without?

My laptop as I need it to work on the road. I think the MacBook Air 11-inch is the perfect travel laptop. It's very light but powerful enough for my writing and photography. 

If I weren't working, it would be my Kindle Paperwhite. I don't know how I travelled without it. It allows me to buy books from anywhere (I have the 3G version), and it fits thousands of books, yet is smaller than one paperback. 

Do you miss travelling with more stuff?

Not at all. After six years I've become so used to carry-on travel that I don't know what I'd put in a big suitcase. Travelling light is so liberating that it would be difficult to go back to being burdened by more stuff. 

How has your packing list changed after six years on the road?

I regularly reassess what's in my bag to make sure I'm using it—everything has to earn its place by being used regularly. As I'm travelling permanently, I'm happy to add new things as long as they fit in my backpack and I'll use them often.

I've added a few extra items of clothing and underwear so that I can go a week without doing laundry. I added a pair of Tieks ballet flats for smarter footwear (I began with just hiking shoes and sports sandals) and workout gear as I started running and yoga. 

I upgraded my laptop from an old Eee PC to the MacBook Air. I switched from a digital SLR to a mirrorless camera (I have the Olympus OMD EM5), which saves me space and reduced my photography gear weight by a third, but the quality is just as good. I bought a Kindle and got rid of my stack of books. 

I've also got rid of things I wasn't using often—rain jacket, backpack cover, towel, compact camera, thermal leggings, and long-sleeve top. 

In part 4 of the book, you interviewed a range of carry-on travellers from families to fashionistas. Do you think carry-on travel is possible for anyone?

I think it's possible for everyone if they are willing to make compromises and be careful with their gear choices. For example, a photographer with four lenses could travel carry-on only, but they'd have to minimise the clothes and shoes they pack. 

I didn't think it would be possible to camp with just a carry-on, but one of the interviewees in the book often does—as he travels by bike or on foot, he wants to keep his backpack light. He chooses an ultralight backpack, tent, and sleeping bag, and only takes a few changes of clothes. 

What would you add to your luggage if you had unlimited space and no restrictions?

A good chef's knife because we often rent apartments that don't provide a decent one. If we're staying somewhere for a month or more, we buy one and then leave it behind. 

What is an item you travel with that other people find surprising?

Many people don't know about packing cubes, which are my top tip for carry-on travel. They keep your gear organised and allow you to fit far more into your bag. I love the ultralight Eagle Creek Spectre compression cubes. 

Erin with her carry-on

Interested in learning more? Check out the book: the Carry-On Traveller.

The Carry-On Traveller: The Ultimate Guide to Packing Light is now available for Amazon (US and UK) Kindle for US $4.99 (or local equivalent). 

Antti and Mirje

We are Mirje and Antti, a 30+ digital nomad couple, entrepreneurs with restless feet and passion for experiencing the world. more »